Craig Silverman brings his wit and wisdom about journalistic errors to BusinessJournalism.org starting Sept. 3.
The editor of Regret the Error, Silverman will write an every-other-week column focusing on common errors in business journalism and tricks to avoid them.
Silverman has an overwhelming amount of experience in media, beginning his studies at Concordia University in Montreal in 1995.
He is currently the managing editor of PBS MediaShift and Idea Lab, the Digital Journalism Director of OpenFile.ca, the editor of Regret the Error (which brought him a book deal), a columnist for the Columbia Journalism Review, and he has been a full-time freelancer since 2002.
Silverman’s column will be running every other Friday, beginning Sept. 3. He will take a look at errors being made in business journalism. He’ll reach out to experienced business reporters who can provide some actionable advice. And he hopes to share tips that will prevent reporters from falling into common traps.
Silverman recently took time to answer a few questions:
Q: You’re best known for “Regret the Error,” how did the site come about and what does it offer its readers?
A: It was 2004 and I was freelancing. I read a lot of media blogs, like Romenesko, and was really amazing at what was going on as far as online journalism. It seemed like a good idea to have one of my own. I knew I wanted it to be media focused. When you are taught journalism accuracy is always taught as the most important thing we do, there are tons of blogs about ethics but few about corrections and accuracy. It turns out errors can be both amusing and instructive. It launched that Fall and had over 10,000 viewers in the first day.
Q: What can journalists do to help avoid making errors?
A: There are a couple fundamental things that people can do to be more accurate. One of the things I encourage people to do is figure out what mistakes they are making, self-diagnose and make an error log to monitor your mistakes. (Be sure to document both those that go to print and those that are caught by the copy desk). It is difficult to improve when you don’t know where you’re your mistakes are. The single most effective way is to use a checklist, whenever I say that I get people groaning and rolling their eyes. It isn’t the most advanced piece of technology. I have one for free that people can download from my site. It is a place that while you work you have a place to write notes to yourself.
Q: Is business journalism more prone to error than other types of journalism? Is accuracy more important?
A: When you are talking about business journalism, I don’t know if I would say it’s more important. In business it can have a large impact. There have been many reports that caused stock prices to fall or cost a company business. There are often complicated numbers when it comes to earnings and SEC filings, those are all areas that are specific to business journalism. Business journalists have to deal with numbers, not only correctly reporting that number but they have to actually be able to interpret them and make sense. Anytime that journalists get a hold of numbers there are often errors. Really the most common error according to research is a misspelled name or incorrect title. In business you obviously deal with company names and titles. A number of places where journalists go wrong is prevalent business reporting. I don’t know if they are necessarily more error prone, but we generally make the same types of errors no matter what our beat or focus is.
Q: What do you like most about working with innovative groups such as PBS MediaShift and IdeaLab?
A: For me this is a really amazing and exciting point in journalism. To be able to write and edit for these programs gives me a front row seat to some amazing ideas. We are seeing some of the older organizations deal with significant challenges, while seeing the emergence of new types of organizations. There are not for profits, hybrid business models, and new content companies. I don’t pretend to know exactly what is going to happen, but I do think that the most important and interesting brands are being created right now. Some of them are old organizations reinventing themselves and others are brand new, I think these will dominate the next 25-50 years of media. This time reminds me of the old “penny papers.” Before the newspaper was for the upper class, all of a sudden you had this new inexpensive paper that created a larger circulation and really started “mass media.” There is a lot that is new and there are some that relate to what has happened in journalism’s past.
Q: Tell us a little about OpenFile.ca.
A: OpenFile is a fairly new collaborative news website for Canada, I am a part of the team that started the project. It currently covers Toronto, but we are looking to expand. There are a lot of local news organizations that are suffering who are struggling to provide as good of coverage as they used to. Many of these community papers have no reporters and are simply re-writing press releases. We wanted to do something that brings a level of community reporting back to Canada. Anyone can come to the site and “open a file.” They basically say, “Hey, I’m wondering about…” We take these ideas and assign a pro journalist to investigate and report. Once it is published we encourage people from the community to add their own photos and information, it enables people to be a part of it. We launched the beta site in May and will be launching an almost complete redesign in September. It isn’t truly “investigative” in the traditional sense as we are basically investigating suggestions and questions people have. All the stories are geo-tagged so as the site grows users will be able to enter their zip code and see what is going on around them in their neighborhood. It is an exciting experience to be a part of one of these new online organizations that are emerging.